World maps can tell so many stories

A number of news stories I’ve read this past week have used maps to tell their story. The data supporting the story, presented in one simple map, tell the tale quite eloquently. Yesterday, for example, I happened upon maps in the news that told stories as varied as voting patterns, the rise in temperature around the world, and the spread of the coronavirus. I’ve always appreciated the effectiveness of maps in conveying information, so when I stumbled upon a distorted map called a cartogram earlier this week I really sat up and took notice. This format is much more challenging for the viewer – it requires close interpretation – but it’s lots of fun and remarkably powerful once you get the gist of it.

To give an easy example of how effective a simple map can be in telling a story, here’s one in the familiar format.  It uses a standard world map to present its data. This map shows which countries in the world use the Fahrenheit system of measurement and which ones use Celsius. Simple, clear, and pretty darn interesting. I have to admit, it surprised me!

Now let’s think about using a world map to show the population of every country. One obvious way would be to take a standard world map and include the population of each country within their boundaries. That would work well. Same information as using a table, but more impactful, with an image that provides three things at the same time: where each country is, how big its geographic area is, and of course its population.

Instead of using a standard map, another approach to presenting world population is to use a cartogram. In this cartogram below the countries have been distorted so that their physical presence represents the size of their population in relation to the rest of the world, while still maintaining as best as possible their geographical location in the world. Needless to say, some countries have expanded greatly and look like giant Yodas, while others have shrunk nearly into oblivion. It’s intriguing to explore once you get the hang of it. Blow it up and check it out. What happened to Greenland?! Where’s Russia?!

Here’s another world map – in standard form – that gives an interesting message about world population: the countries and states in blue represent – in total – 5% of the world’s population while the countries in red represent – in total – another 5% of the world’s population. Hence the remaining 90% of the world’s population must be found in the areas in white! A simple map can give you lots to think about.

Blue area = 5% of worldly population. Red area = 5% of world’s population.

Now that you’ve got the idea of just how effective maps can be, I’ll give you a few more examples, just in case this intrigues you as much as it intrigues me. In fact, I’m giving some thought to starting a Map Monday series. What do you think?

  • This cartogram shows where the world’s billionaires reside. That swelling of pink just east of that sliver of green representing Africa is mostly the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

    Locating the world’s billionaires

  • Once you’ve figured out the Billionaire cartogram, this map showing the Gini Index of Income Inequality for every country provides another way of looking at wealth distribution. In this map, the darker the green, the less inequality, or more equality. The darker the red, the greater the inequality. These indexes are from 2014, the last time there was a full worldwide update. Sadly, I believe most people agree that since 2014 inequality has increased in more places than not.
  • One map that caught my eye is this one, a map showing how welcoming each country is to foreigners.

If you are interested in exploring maps of the world on your own, there are some great sites out there, including worldmapper.org, ourworldindata.org, and commons.wikipedia.org. The Economist archives also has a wealth of maps conveying information on every conceivable topic. And, of course, you can always just google. Enjoy!

This entry was posted in History and Politics, Just wondering, Map Monday, Odds and Ends and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to World maps can tell so many stories

  1. Roy McCarthy says:

    Yes I’ve had a look at some of these recently. They really are a novel way of illustrating a topic in addition to mere words.

    I understand that a President (Johnson?) tried to get the US to get away from imperial measurement to metric, to no avail. It really is a strange anomaly.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I’m glad you like them, too, Roy. My next batch take a fair bit of thinking, but that never hurt us, right?!
      Re the imperial vs metric, I knew they hadn’t changed, but I really didn’t know they were the only ones left. Right up there with the Paris Accord. 😉

  2. Thanks Jane. I found this interesting. I’ll look forward to Map Mondays now 😊

  3. gordienoye says:

    I am adding these maps to Edward Tufte’s books and a steady diet of /r/dataisbeautiful as inspiration to try to convey information elegantly instead of just dumping spreadsheets onto slides.

  4. Nicely done, Jane. You’ve made maps interesting even for those of us who are geographically challenged. (I still have trouble figuring out where some of my readers are when I view my country stats. Sure, I took world geography courses at some point in my education, but there are still places I’ve never heard of!)

  5. Jill davies says:

    I LOVE maps and always like to know where I am on them. However, these maps tell different stories, fascinating. Most curious to me was one showing countries amenable to immigration with several of the Stans featured…who knew, certainly not I.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Jill. Glad to hear you are a fellow map lover. To be fair to the data on the Welcoming map, the legend speaks of feelings towards foreign visitors rather than immigration per se. My guess is that there’s some correlation, but can’t say. I’ll try to find an immigration-specific map!

  6. Dr B says:

    That really is a good way to show data in a more understandable way. I liked the one showing population and was shocked at the size of India relative to China, these are the countries where most pressure should be placed regarding fossil fuel usage and world pollution.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Dr B. There’s a cartogram that shows CO2 emissions, but although India has a huge population it’s emissions don’t compare to the US. China is “first”, followed by the US. By all accounts, the Chinese govt is being more proactive than the US govt in attacking their issues, at least with the current US govt. Of course, the Chinese govt has another big problem on its hands at the moment! 😲😥 Maybe I’ll post some climate change maps next!

  7. Very cartographic and interesting Jane

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